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Uptown Resident Fights 'A' Train Headaches With Advocacy Group

 Washington Heights resident, David Kelso, said he founded the
Washington Heights resident, David Kelso, said he founded the "A Train Advocacy and Activism" group, after mounting frustrations with the A train.
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DNAinfo/Carolina Pichardo

WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — David Kelso said he noticed the A line wasn’t going his way months ago, long before the 125th street-station derailment and hours-long track fire at the 145th street station.

The singer and actor, who’s been living in Northern Manhattan since 1997, said he launched an online group “A Train Advocacy and Activism” in May after noticing several neighbors and friends commenting on the lack of service and maintenance in the Uptown station for the A line.

“I’ve been living here for over 20 years now and the trains used to come — boom, boom, boom. You could really time your appointment without a problem,” Kelso said, adding that the reliability of service is now gone. “That’s just the first thing ­— there isn’t service.”

The group, Kelso said, now consists of 260 members, although approximately 20 to 30 core members do a bulk of the updates, attend meetings regarding transportation and meet with elected officials to discuss the community’s concerns with the subway line.

Kelso said a handful of the members attended the Saturday “summer of hell” summit.

“Everyone in the group seems to have their own little issues — people are talking about the lack of service, the safety issue, the lack of communication from the MTA, the elevators and escalators and so on,” Kelso said.

Kelso said, for him in particular, the 181st street station, where the escalators and elevators have been known to break down frequently, is a big concern. He said the station has no token booth or staff manning the area, and during emergencies there’s a lot of confusion and lack of support that forces commuters — like him, who pay per ride — to spend more than necessary.  

“That entrance no longer has a booth, so for instance, I could’ve gone [on] the escalator [during the track fire], gone down and noticed nothing was coming, nothing was coming,” Kelso said, adding that many commuters like him are then forced to exit the station and walk to the 1 line where the same situation could be waiting for commuters there. This creates "a crisis point," he added, "where everyone is almost paralyzed."

With the growing discussion of the Inwood rezoning, Kelso added, the concern also coincides with worries about infrastructure and how "severely under-serviced" the community is when it comes to the subways.

“People aren’t paying attention to the little guy. It feels like it’s being set up as a class struggle,” Kelso said. “In Washington Heights and Inwood, let’s face it — we don’t have the political clout and our neighborhoods are being ignored."

But members in the group, Kelso said, have already come up with some ideas concerning the A train, including providing booth clerks with cameras to observe the platform or even a “turnstile jumping day,” where everybody system-wide would jump a turnstile to send a message to Albany.

“It’s getting to that point. We’ve reached a bit of a critical moment with these problems,” Kelso said. “Almost every week we have something on the A train, which has become dangerous — for lack of a better word.”

The “A Train Advocacy and Activism” group is hosting events in the coming weeks, including a signage party and a social campaign where members will be encouraged to post a picture of themselves with a sign. Several members are already planning on attending upcoming meetings together, including the upcoming MTA board meetings and a City Council MTA hearing with Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

But despite all this, Kelso said real changes depend on groups like the A Train Advocacy and Activism having a common goal to try to make things to work a little better. 

"I don't have a lot of confidence right now — even with all the reporting going on and all the politicians paying attention — there's no quick-fixes for something that's been ignored for however long it's been ignored," Kelso said.